Polite children get top places
Some high-school places are now allocated on the basis of the behaviour and attitude of pupils, as well as their performance in the annual round of entrance exams, a move which has meant middle-school pupils now pay moreattention to their non-academic profiles.
New crammer-school courses such as "attitude to lessons" and "classroom demeanour" are being offered to help pupils win places at top high schools.
Middle schools are encouraging pupils to take part in community work which is taken into account in the high-school selection process. Middle schools' status is often judged by the number of pupils they send to top high schools.
Previously entry to high school was determined by the results of the entrance exams which are held every year during January and February. With more than 90 per cent of Japan's l5-year-olds looking for high school places there is intense competition to get into the best schools.
High-school teacher Fumio Sato said: "Students doing voluntary work receive additional credits. Voluntary work also encourages young people to think harder about how they can help less-privileged groups in their com-munities."
Japanese schools have a tradition of attempting to mould pupils into more considerate and helpful people. In elementary schools pupils prepare and serve food to their classmates and daily clean-up programmes involve all pupils in helping to tidy their classrooms, corridors, playgrounds, gardens and even the streets surrounding their schools.
Mr Sato added: "The clean-up programme discourages pupils from making a mess of their school. It prevents young people developing a disdain for menial work."
But the decision to use non-academic criteria for assessing pupils is more controversial.
The pupils themselves are concerned that the reports which are drawn up for use in high-school selection in March give teachers too much power. Others complain that some junior high-school teachers are giving their pupils a headstart by organising bus services to help them take part in voluntary activities.
But the biggest complaint is that the new arrangements are putting more pressure on pupils on top of the intense competition to perform well in the annual "entrance exam war", also known as "examination hell".